Well Before the 2012 Season, Obama Kicks the GOP a Political Football

As potential GOP presidential candidates descend on CPAC 2009 this week, Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin is taking a turn away from the spotlight.
As potential GOP presidential candidates descend on CPAC 2009 this week, Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin is taking a turn away from the spotlight. (By Chris Miller -- Associated Press)
By Chris Cillizza And Perry Bacon Jr.
Monday, February 23, 2009

One month into the Obama presidency, the race for the 2012 GOP nomination appears very much underway.

Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman, before heading to the National Governors Association annual meeting that started over the weekend in the District, spoke Friday at a GOP gathering in South Carolina, one of the key primary states in the Republican nominating calendar.

And this week, potential GOP hopefuls will appear at forums where they will woo party activists.

Govs. Charlie Crist of Florida, Mark Sanford of South Carolina and Haley Barbour of Mississippi will speak today at a dinner meeting of the Republican Governors Association, a day before Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal gives the GOP response to President Obama's speech to Congress.

Sanford, along with former governors (and 2008 presidential candidates) Mike Huckabee (Ark.) and Mitt Romney (Mass.), will speak at the Conservative Political Action Conference here later this week. (One notable absence: Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, the 2008 Republican vice presidential nominee, who passed on a trip here -- a savvy move, given her risk of overexposure a full three years before votes in Iowa and New Hampshire.)

But the most obvious sign of the early campaigning has been in response to the economic stimulus proposal Obama signed last week. While Crist and Huntsman spoke positively of the package, nearly every other GOP presidential hopeful joined many fiscal conservatives in criticizing it -- with Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty even appearing on MSNBC's "Rachel Maddow Show" to blast the initiative as too expensive.

With the stimulus money now headed to the states, the 2012 hopefuls have a big decision to make: whether to accept all the stimulus money slated for their states.

Jindal, for his part, said Friday that he would not accept funds that would increase the state's unemployment insurance coverage in the short term for fear that once the federal money disappeared, the state would be forced to raise taxes to keep the same level of coverage.

"Our state is facing a serious budget situation and it would be irresponsible to enter into an expansion of benefits right now that would ultimately increase taxes on the very businesses we are working to support during these tough economic times," Jindal said in a statement. "The federal money in this bill will run out in less than three years for this benefit and our businesses would then be stuck paying the bill."

But First There's 2010

While the focus in today's meeting between Obama and the nation's governors will be on the 2012 GOP aspirants mentioned above, there are any number of compelling campaign story lines for 2010, when 38 states will hold gubernatorial elections.

Democratic-held governorships in Republican strongholds such as Oklahoma, Kansas and Tennessee are up for grabs, and several embattled governors -- Jim Gibbons (R) of Nevada and David A. Paterson (D) of New York, to name just two -- are already fighting for their political lives.

Here's The Fix's latest Line on the five most likely governorships to switch party control in 2010. For a full list, check out The Fix online at http://www.washingtonpost.com/thefix.

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